“Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend.”
(Holmes, O.W., 1911)
If life is a stage, then as casual observers with first impressions of our friend John, we are also actors in the play. I may cast my first impressions about John. Moreover, how we view these two situations have as much to say about us than it does about John.
How Do First Impressions Strike Us? Our brain processes and integrates a variety of input factors that help us arrive at a “first impression.” This “brain process” functions like a road map that assists us in reaching a conclusion, with a high amount of accuracy in as little as thirty seconds (Schiller, D., Freeman, J., Mitchell, J., Uleman, J., & Phelps, E., 2009). Although there maybe a variety of factors that could influence this process. I submit that the greatest influence on a first impression is your “needs framework.”
There are five hierarchal levels of needs listed in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, A., 1968). Beginning with the lowest level: Physiological, an individual ideally satisfies and progresses through each step toward fulfillment. The remaining steps in order are: Safety, Love and Belonging, Esteem, then Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence. So, how does this need framework influence our process of the first impression of other individuals?
First Impressions “strike us” because when the opportunity of forming a first impression is presented to us, we put our current needs framework ahead of the first impression we are about to make about the other person. The needs we most value and protect drive our self-interest and provide the filter in which we form our impressions and assumptions about another person.
For example: Take a hypothetical person whose primary hierarchical needs reference are the levels of: Physiological and Security. This worker has labored to develop and maintain a good relationship with their boss at work. In this example, let’s say the worker has received good performance reports from his supervisor, has built a good rapport, and has a strong feeling of job security. However, one day this person reports into work to find that his boss had been fired over the weekend and his new (unfamiliar), boss is now sitting at his former boss’ desk. The worker begins to feel a level of anxiety as his physiological and security needs have been threatened. Will the new boss like me? Will I have a job after the new boss settles in to his role? Suddenly, the worker may harbor a poor first impression of the new boss because of his own about these two basic frustration (imagined or real), within the needs of Maslow’s hierarchy. However, another co-worker under the same circumstances, who has satisfied the first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, has progressed to a level of Self-Actualization and possibly Transcendence perceives the situation differently. Because this worker’s own self-interest is of confidence...